Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Dancing at the Crossroads

Dancing at the Crossroads: Memory and Mobility in Ireland

Helena Wulff
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 184
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Dancing at the Crossroads
    Book Description:

    Dancing at the crossroads used to be young people's opportunity to meet and enjoy themselves on mild summer evenings in the countryside in Ireland until this practice was banned by law, the Public Dance Halls Act in 1935. Now a key metaphor in Irish cultural and political life, "dancing at the crossroads" also crystallizes the argument of this book: Irish dance, from Riverdance (the commercial show) and competitive dancing to dance theatre, conveys that Ireland is to be found in a crossroads situation with a firm base in a distinctly Irish tradition which is also becoming a prominent part of European modernity.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-434-8
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-xiii)
    Helena Wulff
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  5. Chapter 1 Into the Rhythm of the Dance
    (pp. 1-16)

    On St Patrick’s Day in 1943, Eamon de Valera, the founding father of the Republic of Ireland and Prime Minister, delivered his ‘dream speech’ on the radio. This speech famously depicted an ideal Ireland, and the vision of ‘comely maidens dancing at the crossroads’. Half a century later, in 1994,Riverdance,the commercial Irish dance show, became an overnight sensation as a seven-minute interval entertainment in the annual Eurovision Song Contest broadcast from Dublin.¹ The show, which appeared at a turning point in Ireland’s historical and economic development, went on to unprecedented global success. These two manifestations of Irish life,...

  6. Chapter 2 Tradition Reinvented
    (pp. 17-32)

    Searching for authenticity and tradition in Irish dance, I flew in early September 2001 to Dublin and then on to Galway, in the west of Ireland, where I boarded a local bus which drove along the Connemara coast to the small village of Carraroe. The sun had just come out after a spell of rain, making the pastoral landscape shine in the late afternoon light. I watched low walls running through the fields, and white houses, sheep and horses against a backdrop of the Aran islands. Arriving at the B&B in Carraroe, I met two American sisters on holiday, one...

  7. Chapter 3 Memories in Motion
    (pp. 33-50)

    ‘My sisters were dancing all night’, the old man told me as he was drinking his Guinness in the pub in the small village of Carraroe on the Connemara coast in the west of Ireland. He went on:

    When someone was going to America, my sisters were dancing all night. I remember once, when our aunt was going, my sisters were 15–16 years old. Our aunt left on the bus to Galway at seven. When the bus came back the next day – my sisters were still dancing!

    The sisters in this story made the most of the goodbye: by...

  8. Chapter 4 The Link to the Land
    (pp. 51-68)

    We were a colonized country, an occupied country. What happens is that land becomes important for survival. The English took land and left the poorer land to the Irish. If you had no land, you had no status in the community, that has carried through: people have a very deep desire to own property.

    These are the words of Kathy McArdle, a young manager at the Project Arts Centre, a theatre and exhibition space in Dublin. I met her in September 2000 afterThe Flowerbed, a dance theatre production by Michael Keegan-Dolan, had premiered at the Project Arts Centre.


  9. Chapter 5 Storytelling Dance
    (pp. 69-90)

    Comedy is sometimes used in Irish dance theatre in an effort to help heal the hurt of history. This is also said to be the incentive behind Flann O’Brien’s (1988: 46, 53, 59) popular satire of the Irish peasant novel, originally published in Gaelic in 1942. Born as Brian O’Nolan in 1911, the author spent his childhood under colonization.¹ The novel makes relentless fun of the Gaeltachts, and as the translator Power (1988: 6) points out, of Irish life generally: ‘the key-words in this work are surely “downpour”, “eternity” and “potatoes” set against a background of squalor and poverty’.² One...

  10. Chapter 6 Winning the World’s
    (pp. 91-108)

    An anthropologist going to Ennis, Co. Clare, in the west of Ireland, is undoubtedly reminded of the urban part of Conrad M. Arensberg and Solon T. Kimball’s (1968[1940]) influential community study in the 1930s. It was thus with a feeling of treading classical grounds that I made my way into Ennis in the early spring of 1999. I noticed banners across the streets saying that restaurants and shops were welcoming the World Championship dancers to Ennis. Then I saw a young girl with a multitude of small curlers in her hair, and my reverence for the anthropological inheritance was replaced...

  11. Chapter 7 The Riverdance Moment
    (pp. 109-124)

    On 30 April 1994, Europe stopped for seven minutes.Riverdance,which was first created as an interval entertainment in the Eurovision Song Contest, mesmerized millions of television viewers.¹ Many people have reported on reactions such as ‘my jaw hit the floor!’ to watching this event. No one was expecting that it would happen, even though looking back, the dancer Cormac O’Shea recollects how they had been wondering at the dress rehearsal: ‘Why are people clapping so much? Then at the opening night! It was just hysterical! The dress rehearsal kind of prepared us, but it was just very shocking! It...

  12. Chapter 8 Rooted Cosmopolitanism
    (pp. 125-138)

    Originating from Zimbabwe, now based in Belfast Tura Arutura danced a solo titled Artfrique in October 2002 in Derry, Northern Ireland.¹ The solo opened a conference on community dance for an all-white audience of dance practitioners: we saw Tura emerging from the backdrop wearing a black mask covering his face and a feather head dress, which he took off and put on the stage floor. He executed a series of crossover steps from contemporary stage dance and hip hop accompanied by drums on a tape and the rhythmical rattling sound of small bells on bands around his ankles.

    A black...

  13. Afterword: Yo-yo Fieldwork
    (pp. 139-146)

    As yo-yo fieldwork is a new term, yet, I would argue, an increasingly common strategy to do fieldwork, I am going to discuss this methodological practice. Fieldwork tends to be hailed as the distinguishing feature of the discipline of anthropology, despite the fact that it is actually the theoretical insights that are generated through fieldwork (and that could not have been generated in any other way) that, in combination with a comparative perspective, is our major contribution to academic knowledge.

    How then is fieldwork defined within anthropology? And no less importantly: how do wede factoconduct fieldwork today? For...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 147-160)
  15. Index
    (pp. 161-168)